This Friday, November 18th will mark the 229th birthday of one of the most remarkable women of the 19th century, Sojourner Truth. Her story and courage so outstanding that she has a memorial in her honor in Battle Creek, Michigan. Born Isabella Baumfree in Rifton, New York, she was held captive by at least five owners; who all denied her the right to learn to read or write. Later she met and married her fellow enslaved African, Thomas with whom she continued her family.
Despite many obstacles and after being sold to her last enslaver in 1826, Truth managed to secure freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. By 1843 she settled in New York City and after hearing from God, she then took on the moniker she is known by today.
If I stopped her story right there I think it is enough to say that Truth was a woman of fierce determination and courage. But nope! Truth ain’t done. Despite being robbed of the opportunity to gain formal education she was unwavering and undaunted in her purpose. Her resume is more impressive than some of us today with multiple degrees to our names. She goes on and worked tirelessly for the liberation of her people.
Truth was an activist working for the abolition of slavery. She also fought to secure voting rights for women. She tried to collaborate with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the two white suffragists at the time but they proved to be disloyal allies when they exercised their white female privilege and chose not to support voting rights for Blacks. However, she was not discouraged and as we say, “she kept it pushin’.”
Now as educator-activists who find ourselves living in these trying times, we have much inspiration to draw from Truth’s life and example. Here is a woman who was living in the most racist, sexist, classist and downright dangerous times you could imagine as a person of color and she endured, pushed through, and made a way.
Her life is nothing short of extraordinary in all that she was able to accomplish. Truth was a captivating orator (best know for her Ain’t I a Woman speech delivered in 1851), business woman, human rights advocate, homeowner and she published and sold her biography while she traveled the country. She did all this and so much more because she possessed a strong faith but most importantly she had a deep and abiding love for Black people.
As always we urge you to find ways to share and incorporate this remarkable heroine’s story into your lessons this week or at any point you can. You might decide to watch her famous speech at Akron, Ohio reenacted (see the link above) or use the speech for a shared close reading and annotation activity. If you are teaching argumentative writing you can have students analyze Truth’s rhetorical strategies. Or maybe if the CRE spirit hits you, you can have students compose Truth’s reaction to the 2016 election. Now that may glean some very revealing and powerful writing from your students. Whatever you choose to do let’s keep the example and courage of our ancestors in the forefront of our minds and as sources of encouragement for ourselves and our children.
So we encourage you to seek TRUTH, speak TRUTH and learn TRUTH because our warrior foremother wouldn’t have it any other way.
Peace CREAD tribe